Moved to action after watching the murder of George Floyd in late May, Pastor Edward Pruett began to speak up about the injustices he saw both across the country and within his own community in Westland. After a couple of months, the protests turned into something much bigger — a movement called “A Better Westland.”
“A Better Westland started off as an initiative, and we did protests for about five days outside of the police station and outside of city halls,” Pruett said. “In those, the fight was about justice. The injustice that has continuously gone on, that continues to be hidden, that continues to be propagated. We have been exposing those things so justice can be had.”
Throughout the community, Pruett has become a recognizable figure, and he sees his influence gaining traction.
Pruett, who is the executive director of A Better Westland, has been examining and exposing systemic racism and injustice within his city in hopes of creating concrete change.
“There are very very few in the government who are willing to do what it takes to actually enact long term sustainable change, but we keep fighting regardless,” he said. “We find that protests are a tool to bring awareness, and the real fight comes down to effecting policy changes as well as educating the community and mobilizing them to vote.”
While this year is an off-year for local elections in Westland, Pruett and his team have been getting involved with local politics, and they have been attending city council meetings and town halls to get their voices heard.
One city council meeting that caught Pruett’s attention was on Monday, July 20. Members of the council were voting on a bill proposed by the first-ever African American councilwoman, Tasha Green, which would declare racism as a public health crisis.
Although the original bill contained real policy change, other members of the council “gutted” the bill, making it essentially only a promise for change rather than an action of change, according to Pruett.
“That’s why people had to march in the 60s, that’s why they marched to fight for civil rights, that’s why they boycotted on buses in Montgomery in 1955, that’s why had the Birmingham campaign in 1963 — that’s why they had all these things because the status quo, the establishment, continued to not do anything or provide something weakened that would show that they’re trying to do something but had no real teeth to it,” he said.
Westland has always been a neighborhood that struggled with diversity. Despite their 30% African American and minority population, public offices, the police, and the fire department have less than 5% minority employees.
Police misconduct is also no stranger to Westland. In 2017, a Black man died in custody at a Westland jail. This past January, a Black man with autism was excessively beaten by a police officer with a criminal history, who has since been fired. According to Pruett, there was no word from the city government on the brutality until WXYZ broke the story this past June.
“Now they say, Chief [Jeff] Jedrusik says specifically, that they want to be transparent,” Pruett said. “So you want to be transparent now that your hand has been caught in the cookie jar?”
Despite the city’s history with racism, the results from Monday’s city council meeting were in the direction Pruett and A Better Westland were hoping. All council members voted to table the bill for the time being and take a further look into it during a study session. Pruett hopes the bill can be presented as a way to solve the issues the city faces and make Westland better for those who live there.
“For me personally, my calling is for the people,” Pruett said. “God called me out on Jeremiah 22:3, which basically paraphrased — do what is just and right and free from the oppressor those who have been robbed … Many people have been robbed of their dignity, they have been robbed of their ability to progress, and that’s why we fight, and that’s what drives me forward.”